Did you know? In Greece people were buried with coins in their mouths

Sania SaeedWeb Editor

19th Sep, 2021. 07:06 pm

In Ancient Greece bodies were buried with coins in their mouth a tradition known as Charon’s Obol. The coins were believed to be the bribe for Charon, the boatman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of living from world of the dead.

Charon’s obol is an allusive term for the coin placed in or on the mouth[1] of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin literary sources specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Archaeological examples of these coins, of various denominations in practice, have been called “the most famous grave goods from antiquity.”

Charon and Psyche (1883), a pre-Raphaelite interpretation of the myth by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope

The custom is primarily associated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, though it is also found in the ancient Near East. In Western Europe, a similar usage of coins in burials occurs in regions inhabited by Celts of the Gallo-Roman, Hispano-Roman and Romano-British cultures, and among the Germanic peoples of late antiquity and the early Christian era, with sporadic examples into the early 20th century.

Although archaeology shows that the myth reflects an actual custom, the placement of coins with the dead was neither pervasive nor confined to a single coin in the deceased’s mouth.[3] In many burials, inscribed metal-leaf tablets or Exonumia take the place of the coin, or gold-foil crosses during the early Christian period. The presence of coins or a coin-hoard in Germanic ship-burials suggests an analogous concept.

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